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Neall budget draws school board sighs


County Executive Robert R. Neall met with county school officials the day before he officially released his fiscal year 1993 budget.

"This is budget eve," Neall said. "Sort of like Christmas Eve, only there isn't anything under the tree."

For school officials, their Christmas tree wasn't completely barren. Neall's proposed $634 million operating budget included $347.9 million for the school system, $14.3 million over this year's spending levels. It also included 93 additional classroom teachers.

The school board had requested $365.8 million.

But the school system did find one major, and often controversial, item missing from under its tree -- the Integrated School Information System (ISIS) computer network.

Neall's budget eliminates the school board's $1.28 million request for the ISIS program. In addition, the county executive has recommended the elimination of eight ISIS positions.

"We were very pleased with the county executive's decision to provide us with 93 additional positions," Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Cheryl Wilhoyte said. "The additional teachers will allow us to maintain our current student-teacher ratio."

The school system is expecting an additional 2,660 students for the 1992-1993 school year. The ratio now stands at 24.6 students per teacher.

With the additional positions, the ratio would increase only slightly, to 24.9 to 1.

While pleased with the additional teachers, board member Maureen Carr-York said the addition was not enough to help many schools suffering from crowded classrooms.

"Yes, I'm happy about the new instructional positions, but it's not enough to maintain the status quo," Carr-York said. "It's certainly nothing to be proud of. It's better than increasing class size, but I'm not jumping for joy."

She also questioned Neall's decision to eliminate 24 vacant custodial positions, noting that custodians are working harder than ever to maintain school buildings.

ISIS, which is designed to handle classroom and administrative computer needs with one system, was expected to cost the school system about $50 million. The program has received $4.1 million over the past three years.

School officials said eliminating the program would be a major setback for students.

"I am devastated by us eliminating technology in the county," said board member Thomas Twombly. "We keep talking about the type of computer skills our kids need for the future, yet we eliminate the technology to help them. I hope we can convince the [County] Council ISIS is a necessity."

Added Carr-York, "We're already moving at an absurdly slow rate. This has really set us back. We already have fewer computers per students than many of the surrounding jurisdictions."

The council has the power to restore money Neall deleted from the budget submitted to him by the school board.

The eight ISIS positions recommended for elimination are technicians who help students work with the system, Wilhoyte said. Without them, students will be unable to use the equipment, she added.

School officials also were not pleased that Neall did not include money for replacing Solley and Meade Heights elementary schools. Instead, Neall requested planning money for the two schools in his school capital budget request of $12.7 million.

"The capital budget is about half of what we requested," Carr-York said. "I'm really disappointed about Meade Heights and Solley. We could have begun construction in a couple of months. It's not a wonderful capital budget."

Officials from Anne Arundel Community College, however, were quite happy with Neall's proposed budget.

Neall has requested $30.5 million for the community college's operating budget, plus $9.6 million in capital budget money -- including $6.2 million for the a new allied health building and $2.6 million to develop the western area of the Arnold campus.

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